Mick Burgess-compressed

Mick Burgess didn't actually plan to have a family business; he was just focused on supporting his family and it all evolved from there.

"I just started out moving dirt in the landscaping world, and the business grew around me," says Mick.

I'm not sure whether Mick is flattered when we refer to him as one of Canberra's 'business elder's', but at Lighthouse when it comes to issues related to family business, Mick has decades worth of experience and is always willing to share.

According to Mick, "You don't know what you don't know in business, until you realise you don't know it".

"When I realised that, I looked for mentoring tapes to give me some guidance and listened to an interview with Jason Lea from Darrell Lea chocolates.

"I thought 'I just have to meet this guy!' and then coincidentally I found a flyer for a Family Business Australia (FBA) conference in Tasmania with Jason Lee as the chairperson.

"I decided I just had to go and when I got there, it was amazing, there was such a buzz in the room", laughs Mick.

"I met Jason and we got on like a house on fire and became great friends.


"There were businesses from all over Australia in all different sorts of industries and everyone was bragging about what went wrong, not what went right in their business.

"I learnt that no matter what business you're in, whether its hairdressing, IT or even land moving like me, the same problems are involved with every business – in particular family business," says Mick.

"One of the key points I took away was, after having sacked my son a few months earlier my wife told me I was the only person in the world who would sack his son, but at the conference Jason Lea got up to speak and talked about how he sacked his son".


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Mick says that every family, like a business, has issues to resolve and you can learn a lot from other people's experiences.

"When you're talking with someone, one day you're the sponge, and the next you could be the water," explains Mick.

He believes that being involved with other family businesses can really help give you direction.

"It helps you with where you are and where you want to be, and you have access to a number of other family businesses around Australia to support you.

"My biggest weakness in running our family business was that I invested all my time in training my staff, but not my family. We would sit around the dinner table, and they would ask me what's happening in the business and I would say 'don't worry; I'm too busy to talk about it'. They had no exposure to what was happening or what was involved in running the business".


Mick says as a result, your family begins to resent the business because all they see is a tired parent who doesn't have enough time for them

"I think it's important to set up a family board, invite them to learn about what's happening in the business and feel more involved".


He also cautions that too many family businesses let their children think it's their right to move into the business whenever they're ready. Rather they should get experience elsewhere and then apply that to the family business later on.

"I think if you let your son or daughter go away to another business, gain some skills and then bring it back to your family business, there will be greater respect on both sides.

"People say cash is king. If that's the case, communication is queen. Having open communication with your family about where the business is going long term is always important", stresses Mick.

"You basically have two families; your actual family and your business family, and when mixing together you need to communicate the whole way through."


If you have a family business and are contemplating bringing a family member into the business, Lighthouse will be holding a workshop along with the local Family Business Australia Chapter in February 2015. Just contact us for more information.


About Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre
Lighthouse has a strong track record of supporting entrepreneurs, researchers and inventers on the path from concept to commercialisation. Since July 2008, Lighthouse has worked with over 990 distinct enterprises and provided group and peer based services to over 3400 enterprises and individuals. For over five years Lighthouse has successfully delivered business advice, education, mentorship and networking opportunities to help these businesses commercialise their ideas and grow their companies. Lighthouse also delivers programs such as the ACT Microcredit Program for the ACT Government. Visit www.lighthouseinnovation.com.au for more information.